Murphy's Law: A Scam Way Too Far

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May 2, 2014: A British government investigation into Iraqi claims that British troops tortured and murdered at least twenty Iraqis in 2004 concluded that the claims were false and basically a scam to obtain money via the British courts. The investigation took a year and cost $39 million. The Iraq plaintiffs were suing in British courts for cash compensation for the alleged murders. The investigation could not find any evidence to back up the claims of the Iraqis, but did find ample evidence that the Iraqis were lying deliberately and frequently. All this is nothing new, although it was a bold move to take this scam to Britain.

Foreign troops in Afghanistan and Iraq quickly found that the locals could be incredibly corrupt, often to an astonishing degree. That’s because Iraqis, and especially Afghans, consider stealing from foreigners to be a laudable goal and this is a tradition that goes back thousands of years. One of the more common scams had to do with false claims for compensation because foreign troop actions caused deaths or injuries. Many of these scams succeeded again and again. Eventually the foreign troops caught on, often with the discreet help of friendly, and a lot more honest, locals. After that many details of attempted compensation fraud documented.

One of the best examples of this is the “dead goat scam” in which Afghan villagers lie about who was killed by a NATO bomb in order to obtain more compensation money, and to avoid Taliban retribution. This one is quite common and works like this. Often, when a smart bomb gets dropped in an isolated location (which describes most of Afghanistan), and there is any chance of civilian casualties the locals will make a fuss about seeking to find who was hurt or killed. The village elders insist that outsiders (as in U.S. military personnel investigating the damage) stay away during this trying time. Even the foreign soldiers and Afghan police are put off (after a quick search for Taliban bodies, documents, and equipment is completed). Being good Moslems, the villagers bury the dead before sunset of the same day. The next day, the elders will claim as many civilian dead, killed by smart bombs, as they think they can get away with. Sometimes additional graves get a dead goat or other animal, so the proper stench permeates the mound of earth. Digging up graves is also against Islamic law, so the elders know the foreign troops have to take their word for it. The elders also know that the foreign troops, depending on nationality, will pay $1,000-$5,000 compensation per dead civilian. Not only is there a big payday, but the Taliban appreciate the bad publicity directed at the foreigners and usually show their appreciation by cutting this village or valley some slack in the future. The villages encourage this by offering the local Taliban a cut of the compensation money.

This scam works because there aren't many public records in Afghanistan. The only ones who know exactly who lives in a village are the people there and the elders speak for everyone. Investigators have a hard time interrogating individuals because the elders, and everyone there, has a vested interest in not being found out. Sometimes the elders get greedy. For example, despite an intensive investigation into a 2008 bombing in Azizabad (outside Heart), the villagers got paid for over 90 dead. Investigators, piecing together what information they could, were certain that there were only 15 dead civilians (plus Taliban). But you can't touch the graves, and even questioning the veracity of the claims gets you howls of indignation.

In Iraq there were a lot more records, and most of the action was in densely populated areas. The investigations were prompt, and the Iraqis were not as bold and aggressive as the Afghans in keeping officials out. Iraq has a 5,000 year tradition of central government and officials who cannot be chased away. Afghanistan has none of that, at least out in the countryside. The local Afghan police are not enthusiastic about getting to the truth, since denying the villagers a payday will mean the police will be blamed and the villagers will be eager to even the score down the line. If the police play along, they can expect a reward, from the village elders, for their trouble.

The Iraqis, however, were more knowledgeable about how the Western media worked and would often succeed by pushing the right buttons with eager Western journalists and leftist politicians and lawyers back home. All these Westerners are more gullible, for one reason or another, and the military would sometimes just pay to quiet things down.

This is all because the Islamic media, and many news outlets in the West, like the idea that a lot more civilians are being killed. For the Westerners, "if it bleeds it leads", and there's a bonus if you want to get in some shots about how poorly the war is being run. Of course, if you interview the American troops involved, you get closer to the truth. But that's not a newsworthy story, and you don't really want to call the soldiers liars, so it's best to just stay away from them. Go for the story, not for the truth.

 

 


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